As we celebrate Google‘s 20th birthday today, let’s take a look at how Google has impacted research in the library. Google is a tool that has some really great benefits, but also some drawbacks. It does a really great job of using natural language in its search, allowing users to type in common phrases without having to think about keyword combinations. Google Scholar allows anyone to search through quality academic journals, do extensive forward and backward citation searching and even access the full text of articles unavailable in the library. Most importantly, Google has given millions of students and faculty instant access to knowledge and information that could have taken hours of working with a Reference librarian in a library. This access gives students more time to search for and read their sources and produce better research.
But… it still has flaws to consider. As good as the spoken language search has become, Google is still keyword-based, which puts the onus on the searcher to find and use the best keywords. Also, Google’s PageRank tool emphasizes websites that contain a high number of links, or that are linked to a high number of times, over those with less, which can rank pages with poor quality or inaccurate information higher above better quality pages. Google Scholar, for all the access it provides, most results are not full text and contains many non-refereed, non-academic sources mixed in the results. And while Google provides instant access to millions of pages of information, it leaves it up to YOU, the searcher, to determine what is of value and what is not.
Google has given us so much, but has also made it more important than ever that we can evaluate the sources we find, especially for scholarly research.
It is up to you to Google wisely.
– Brendan Johnson